This kid can really swing. That, in a nutshell, sums up the extraordinary appeal of a 25 year-old Vancouver vocalist with a gift for making some of the greatest songs of all time entirely his own. His name is Michael Bublé (pronounced Boo-blay) and the evidence of his singular swingness is on abundant display with his irresistible new Reprise/143 Records debut album. More than a tribute to the gold standard of music’s most enduring songs; more than a homage to a bygone era of songwriting and performing: the thirteen tracks of Michael Bublé announce in no uncertain terms the arrival of a major new talent with a flair for infusing the familiar and beloved music with a fresh, original and utterly unique sensibility entirely his own. Michael Bublé can, indeed, swing.
It’s a precocious fondness evident virtually from the cradle, when Michael first began absorbing the sounds of Ella Fitzgerald, Keely Smith, Sarah Vaughan and Rosemary Clooney, with a liberal sprinkling of Stevie Wonder, Elvis, Bobby Darin, Vaughan Monroe and Ol’ Blue Eyes. “My grandfather was really my best friend growing up,” reveals Michael. “He was the one who opened me up to a whole world of music that seemed to have been passed over by my generation. Although I like rock & roll and modern music, the first time my granddad played me the Mills Brothers something magical happened. The lyrics were so romantic, so real’the way a song should be for me. It was like seeing my future flash before me. I wanted to be a singer and I knew that this was the music that I wanted to sing.”
It was, in fact, his grandfather who proved instrumental in moving Michael toward a career in music. “He asked me, as a favor to him, to learn the songs that he loved so much,” Michael continues. “It was kind of a guilt trip, but he didn’t have to do much convincing. I started practicing and entered a local talent contest. I won the competition, but was later disqualified for being underage. That was when my granddad, who was a skilled plumber, started offering to do free work for musicians in town in exchange for letting me perform a few numbers with them on stage.” A star was born, even as leaky faucets all over Vancouver were being repaired.
By the age 17 Michael already had a wealth of experience under his belt and knew decisively where he was heading. He garnered another first prize at the Canadian Youth Talent Search, recorded and released a series of independent albums and racked up invaluable chops as part of a U.S. road company for Red Rock Diner and a musical revue aptly titled Swing.
It was former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, himself a devoted fan of classic pop, who introduced Michael to fellow countryman David Foster, the multi-Grammy winning producer, performer, and Warner Bros. Records label executive, and by the time the young singer performed “Mack The Knife” at the wedding of Mulroney’s daughter, the creative chemistry between the fledgling artist and the accomplished producer was complete. Michael was duly signed to Foster’s own 143 Records through Reprise and work began in the spring of 2001 on his major label debut. “We were walking a fine line in the studio,” explains Michael. “The last thing we wanted to do was a tribute album or a lounge act. We wanted to treat this music with the love and respect it deserves, but the important thing was to capture a spirit and energy and that wasn’t confined to any particular musical era.”
While Foster, with invaluable assistance from the producer’s longtime collaborator Humberto Gatica, initially focused on the singer’s consummate facility with pop standards, it quickly became clear that Michael’s formidable skills reached far beyond the Thirties and Forties.
“We didn’t end up where we thought we were going,” Michael continues. “David and Humberto brought in a very wide range of material and I really started sparking to what was being presented. We were always careful to keep within my stylistic range, but we discovered, in that range, all kinds of music made the lineup.
The result is an album that effortlessly mixes such perennials as “For Once In My Life,” “Fever” and “The Way You Look Tonight,” with a rousing version of Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” a surprisingly evocative rendition of the Lou Rawl hit “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine,” and a rendering of the Bee Gees classic “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart,” performed with the Bee Gees themselves, that takes its place among the very best version of the much-covered songs. “I think all these songs have something in common,” Michael asserts. “They have a heart and a soul and the challenge of any singer is to connect with those qualities and make them real for the audience. Of course, these particular standards have been favorites of mine for as long as I can remember. But the newer material has that special something as well. It’s a timeless quality.”
But Michael also brings a quality entirely his own to these thirteen stellar tracks. “Michael hasn’t just learned this music,” concludes Foster. “He’s lived it. He brings youthful energy to it, tough and tender at the same time and like nothing else I’ve ever heard. The great thing is, he’s tapped into a repertoire that can last him fifty years. He’s at the beginning of a very long career.”
A half a century of swing. It just doesn’t get any better than that.